The Early Sculpture of Ely Cathedral

The Early Sculpture of Ely Cathedral

The Early Sculpture of Ely Cathedral

The Early Sculpture of Ely Cathedral

Excerpt

Although the Romanesque sculpture of Ely Cathedral is widely known, there is no publication dealing with it in any detail. Photographs showing general views of the so-called Prior's Doorway have been reproduced many times in English and foreign books, but even in the best of these photographs, the most interesting details of the carving are lost. The aim of the present volume is to provide a new set of photographs, giving clear details as well as general views for enjoyment and study, and a text which could be a help for both.

Ely Cathedral houses not only the Prior's Doorway but also two other Romanesque doorways, which are remarkable for their sculpture. In addition, there is a group of early capitals, so far unpublished, some corbel-heads high up on the transept and nave walls and a twelfth century tombstone of great interest. Most English Romanesque cathedrals have been so rebuilt that little of their original sculptural decoration survives. Ely, together with Canterbury, Lincoln and Durham, is fortunate in having retained so much of its Romanesque sculpture. It is only natural that the sculpture in these cathedrals, many of which were at the same time seats of large monastic communities, was of a finer quality than the sculpture in smaller buildings. These latter in more remote and poorer districts had a much greater chance of surviving unaltered to our own times, and thus our knowledge of English Romanesque sculpture is often based on such provincial examples. Any sculpture from an important church, such as Ely, is however, of particular interest, and for that reason alone it deserves a more careful study.

Ely was not only an important cathedral-monastery but also a place for pilgrimages to the shrine of St. Etheldreda, the foundress of the monastery and its first abbess.

Bede (died 735) in his History of the English Church and People described Ely as being in the province of the East Angles, and as resembling an island surrounded by water and marshes. He gave an account of the life of St. Etheldreda, a daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles. She was first married to Tonbert . . .

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